Michelle Miller Burns Appointed Minnesota Orchestra President and CEO

(MINNEAPOLIS, MN) Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson today announced the appointment of Michelle Miller Burns as the Orchestra’s new President and CEO, effective September 1. Currently the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Executive Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Chief Operating Officer, Ms. Burns has previously served as Interim President and CEO of the Dallas Symphony and held senior fundraising roles with the Newberry Library and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She succeeds President and CEO Kevin Smith, who will retire on August 31. Ms. Burns’ initial contract is for five years.

Michelle Miller Burns absolutely stood out in our search as an orchestra leader who is committed to collaboration and distinguished herself as a natural match for our highly cooperative governance model,said Board Chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson. “Michelle has a deep knowledge of music, and a highly strategic business sense, as well as significant experience leading major fundraising initiatives and building relationships. She is the right person for Kevin Smith to pass leadership of the organization on to at this point in the Minnesota Orchestra’s history.” That leadership transition will begin in August when Ms. Burns will join the Orchestra on its tour to South Africa.

I am impressed by the artistry of Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. It is clear that they have a strong relationship with their audience and the community, said Ms. Burns. “There is a great spirit of collaboration throughout the organization, which is very appealing to me. The collaborative model that has been embraced by the Minnesota Orchestra reflects my own leadership style, which is transparent and open to a wide range of perspectives and input. This is a remarkable organization, and I’m honored to join it.

The move to Minneapolis marks a return to Midwestern roots for Ms. Burns, who was born in Iowa and grew up largely in the Chicago area, playing violin in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. Her orchestral career began in the administration of the Chicago Symphony, where she held multiple positions over 15 years before being appointed Vice President for Development at the Newberry Library. In 2015 she joined the Dallas Symphony as Vice President of Development and subsequently served as Executive Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Chief Operating Officer. Ms. Burns recently served as Interim President and CEO in Dallas; under her leadership, the Dallas Symphony ratified a new three-year contract with its musicians, achieved its contributed revenue goal of $24 million, and completed its 2016-17 season with a balanced budget.

Michelle understands where we have come from as an organization and she shares our vision for where we want to go,said Music Director Osmo Vänskä. “She cultivates strong relationships with musicians and collaborators, and I look forward to partnering with her as we plan for the Minnesota Orchestra’s future.

Said Associate Principal Flute Greg Milliren, one of the musician members of the Search Committee, “Michelle is joining the Minnesota Orchestra at an exciting and vibrant time for the organization. Her artistic values and depth of experience in the industry, combined with her collaborative leadership style, make her the ideal successor to Kevin Smith.  We’re so pleased to welcome her to the Twin Cities, introduce her to our audience, and begin working with her to continue to enrich, inspire, and serve our community.”

Led by Co-Chairs Nancy Lindahl and Warren Mack, the 15-member President Search Committee comprised Minnesota Orchestra board, musician and staff representatives. Ms. Burns was the unanimous selection of the committee from a pool of international candidates. The search was managed by Isaacson, Miller.


Born in Marengo, Iowa, Michelle Miller Burns began violin lessons at age four, later performing as a member of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. She earned a B.M. in Arts Administration from Northwestern University, where she studied violin performance with members of the Chicago Symphony, and subsequently completed the Chicago Management Institute program at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Following a Management Fellowship with the League of American Orchestras, Ms. Burns held multiple positions with the Chicago Symphony, including Director of Planned Giving.
In 2006 she was named Vice President for Development at the Newberry Library, an independent research library for the humanities in Chicago, where she spearheaded a turnaround of the Library’s fundraising program, including leading a $25 million campaign that exceeded its goal by 10 percent. In 2015 Ms. Burns joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, where she now serves as Executive Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Chief Operating Officer, a position in which she directs institutional operating initiatives and is responsible for earned and contributed revenue totaling $33.5 million.
Ms. Burns serves on the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music Advisory Board and The Solti Foundation U.S. Board. She is a past president of the Chicago Council on Planned Giving and the Junior League of Chicago.

About the Minnesota Orchestra

The Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, now in its second century and led by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, ranks among America’s top symphonic ensembles, with a distinguished history of acclaimed performances in its home state and around the world. It is known for award-winning recordings, as well as for notable educational engagement programs and a commitment to new orchestral repertoire. The ensemble presents nearly 175 programs annually, primarily at its home venue of Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, and its programs are heard nationally and internationally in award-winning broadcasts produced by Minnesota Public Radio. Under Mr. Vänskä’s leadership, the Orchestra has recorded symphonic cycles by Beethoven, Sibelius and, now in progress, Mahler. In August the Orchestra will embark on a five-city tour to South Africa—the first visit by a major U.S. orchestra to that country.

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